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... the reasonable is that which is viable

Hilde let the big ring binder fall to the floor with a heavy thud. She lay on her bed staring up at the ceiling. Her thoughts were in a turmoil.

Now her father really had made her head swim. The rascal! How could he?

Sophie had tried to talk directly to her. She had asked her to rebel against her father. And she had really managed to plant an idea in Hilde's mind. A plan ...

Sophie and Alberto could not so much as harm a hair on his head, but Hilde could. And through Hilde, Sophie could reach her father.

She agreed with Sophie and Alberto that he was going too far in his game of shadows. Even if he had only made Alberto and Sophie up, there were limits to the show of power he ought to permit himself.

Poor Sophie and Alberto! They were just as defenseless against the major's imagination as a movie screen is against the film projector.

Hilde would certainly teach him a lesson when he got home! She could already see the outline of a really good plan.

She got up and went to look out over the bay. It was almost two o'clock. She opened the window and called over toward the boathouse.


Her mother came out.

"I'll be down with some sandwiches in about an hour. Okay?" "Fine." "I just have to read a chapter on Hegel."

Alberto and Sophie had seated themselves in the two chairs by the window facing the lake.

"Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hege/was a legitimate child of Romanticism," began Alberto. "One could almost say he developed with the German spirit as it gradually evolved in Germany. He was born in Stuttgart in 1770, and began to study theology in Tubingen at the age of eighteen. Beginning in 1799, he worked with Schelling in Jena during the time when the Romantic Movement was experiencing its most explosive growth. After a period as assistant professor in Jena he became a professor in Heidelberg, the center of German National Romanticism. In 1818 he was appointed professor in Berlin, just at the time when the city was becoming the spiritual center of Europe. He died of cholera in 1831, but not before 'He-gelianism' had gained an enormous following at nearly all the universities in Germany."

"So he covered a lot of ground."

"Yes, and so did his philosophy. Hegel united and developed almost all the ideas that had surfaced in the Romantic period. But he was sharply critical of many of the Romantics, including Schelling."

"What was it he criticized?"

"Schelling as well as other Romantics had said that the deepest meaning of life lay in what they called the 'world spirit.' Hegel also uses the term 'world spirit,' but in a new sense. When Hegel talks of 'world spirit' or 'world reason,' he means the sum of human utterances, because only man has a 'spirit.'

"In this sense, he can speak of the progress of world spirit throughout history. However, we must never forget that he is referring to human life, human thought, and human culture."

"That makes this spirit much less spooky. It is not lying in wait anymore like a 'slumbering intelligence' in rocks and trees."

 "Now, you remember that Kant had talked about something he called 'das Ding an sich.' Although he denied that man could have any clear cognition of the in-nermost secrets of nature, he admitted that there exists a kind of unattainable 'truth.' Hegel said that 'truth is subjective/ thus rejecting the existence of any 'truth' above or beyond human reason. All knowledge is human knowledge, he said."

"He had to get the philosophers down to earth again, right?"

"Yes, perhaps you could say that. However, Hegel's philosophy was so all-embracing and diversified that for present purposes we shall content ourselves with highlighting some of the main aspects. It is actually doubtful whether one can say that Hegel had his own 'philosophy' at all. What is usually known as Hegel's philosophy is mainly a method for understanding the progress of history. Hegel's philosophy teaches us nothing about the inner nature of life, but it can teach us to think productively."

"That's not unimportant."

"All the philosophical systems before Hegel had had one thing in common, namely, the attempt to set up eternal criteria for what man can know about the world. This was true of Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, and Kant. Each and every one had tried to investigate the basis of human cognition. But they had all made pronouncements on the timeless factor of human knowledge of the world."

"Isn't that a philosopher's job?"

"Hegel did not believe it was possible. He believed that the basis of human cognition changed from one generation to the next. There were therefore no 'eternal truths/ no timeless reason. The only fixed point philosophy can hold on to is history itself."

"I'm afraid you'll have to explain that. History is in a constant state of change, so how can it be a fixed point?"

"A river is also in a constant state of change. That doesn't mean you can't talk about it. But you cannot say at which place in the valley the river is the 'truest' river."

"No, because it's just as much river all the way through."

"So to Hegel, history was like a running river. Every tiny movement in the water at a given spot in the river is determined by the falls and eddies in the water higher upstream. But these movements are determined, too, by the rocks and bends in the river at the point where you are observing it."

"I get it... I think."

"And the history of thought--or of reason--is like this river. The thoughts that are washed along with the current of past tradition, as well as the material conditions prevailing at the time, help to determine how you think. You can therefore never claim that any particular thought is correct for ever and ever. But the thought can be correct from where you stand."

"That's not the same as saying that everything is equally right or equally wrong, is it?"

"Certainly not, but some things can be right or wrong in relation to a certain historical context. If you advocated slavery today, you would at best be thought foolish. But you wouldn't have been considered foolish 2,500 years ago, even though there were already progressive voices in favor of slavery's abolition. But we can take a more local example. Not more than 100 years ago it was not considered unreasonable to burn off large areas of forest in order to cultivate the land. But it is extremely unreasonable today. We have a completely different--and better--basis for such judgments."

"Now I see."

"Hegel pointed out that as regards philosophical reflection, also, reason is dynamic; it's a process, in fact. And the 'truth' is this same process, since there are no criteria beyond the historical process itself that can determine what is the most true or the most reasonable."

"Examples, please."

"You cannot single out particular thoughts from antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment and say they were right or wrong. By the same token, you cannot say that Plato was wrong and that Aristotle was right. Neither can you say that Hume was wrong but Kant and Schelling were right. That would be an antihistorical way of thinking."

"No, it doesn't sound right."

"In fact, you cannot detach any philosopher, or any thought at all, from that philosopher's or that thought's historical context. But--and here I come to another point--because something new is always being added, reason is 'progressive.' In other words, human knowledge is constantly expanding and progressing."

"Does that mean that Kant's philosophy is nevertheless more right than Plato's?"

"Yes. The world spirit has developed--and progressed--from Plato to Kant. And it's a good thing! If we return to the example of the river, we could say that there is now more water in it. It has been running for over a thousand years. Only Kant shouldn't think that his 'truths' will remain on the banks of the river like immovable rocks. Kant's ideas get processed too, and his 'reason' becomes the subject of future generations' criticism. Which is exactly what has happened."

"But the river you talked about. . ."


"Where does it go?"

"Hegel claimed that the 'world spirit' is developing toward an ever-expanding knowledge of itself. It's the same with rivers--they become broader and broader as they get nearer to the sea. According to Hegel, history is the story of the 'world spirit' gradually coming to consciousness of itself. Although the world has always existed, human culture and human development have made the world spirit increasingly conscious of its intrinsic value."

"How could he be so sure of that?"

"He claimed it as a historical reality. It was not a prediction. Anybody who studies history will see that humanity has advanced toward ever-increasing 'self-knowledge' and 'self-development.' According to Hegel, the study of history shows that humanity is moving toward greater rationality and freedom. In spite of all its capers, historical development is progressive. We say that history is purposeful."

"So it develops. That's clear enough."

"Yes. History is one long chain of reflections. Hegel also indicated certain rules that apply for this chain of reflections. Anyone studying history in depth will observe that a thought is usually proposed on the basis of other, previously proposed thoughts. But as soon as one thought is proposed, it will be contradicted by another. A tension arises between these two opposite ways of thinking. But the tension is resolved by the proposal of a third thought which accommodates the best of both points of view. Hegel calls this a dialectic process."

"Could you give an example?"

"You remember that the pre-Socratics discussed the question of primeval substance and change?"

"More or less."

"Then the Eleatics claimed that change was in fact impossible. They were therefore forced to deny any change even though they could register the changes through their senses. The Eleatics had put forward a claim, and Hegel called a standpoint like that a thesis."


"But whenever such an extreme claim is proposed, a contradictory claim will arise. Hegel called this a nega-tion. The negation of the Eleatic philosophy was Heracli-tus, who said that everything flows. There is now a tension between two diametrically opposed schools of thought. But this tension was resolved when Empedocles pointed out that both claims were partly right and partly wrong."

"Yes, it all comes back to me now . . ."

"The Eleatics were right in that nothing actually changes, but they were not right in holding that we cannot rely on our senses. Heraclitus had been right in that we can rely on our senses, but not right in holding that everything flows."

"Because there was more than one substance. It was the combination that flowed, not the substance itself."

"Right! Empedocles' standpoint--which provided the compromise between the two schools of thought--was what Hegel called the negation of the negation."

"What a terrible term!"

"He also called these three stages of knowledge thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. You could, for example, say that Descartes's rationalism was a thesis--which was contradicted by Hume's empirical antithesis. But the contradiction, or the tension between two modes of thought, was resolved in Kant's synthesis. Kant agreed with the rationalists in some things and with the empiricists in ot............
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